Making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear

Having put my NaNoWriMo novel to one side for about two months after I finished it, last month I finally picked it up, intending to read it through and start editing it into shape.

Dear lord. It is terrible.

I mean, I knew it wouldn’t be good. I knew it would be pretty bad, in fact. Actually, I knew while I was writing it that it was pretty bad. I wasn’t prepared for it to be quite this bad.

I’m still going to go through the editing process, to see what I can do with it. After all, in addition to never having written anything before, I have obviously never edited anything I’ve written either, so this is as much a learning process as writing it in the first place was. However, I’m not expecting to get a decent novel out of this process. If I’m lucky, I might be able to wrangle it into something a bit less shameful. But, as the saying goes, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. At the end of all this, I’m still not going to have anything I can say I’d be proud to have written.

Pig's Ears at Psar Orussei

Pig's ears. Probably much tastier than my novel. Photo courtesy of phil.lees on Flickr

Honestly though, I’m actually not too concerned about it. The whole point of doing NaNoWriMo was to force myself to actually get writing: to stop being one of those people who constantly talks about writing but never actually does it. I never expected to be good at it straight away. Everyone always says that you learn how to write by doing it, so it’s necessary to write some crap before you start producing anything good.

I do wonder though: how do you know when to quit? I thought this after reading Neil Gaiman’s excellent NaNoWriMo pep talk: he suggests that every writer goes through a phase where they think that what they’re writing is terrible, that they should just “abandon the book and take up a new life as a landscape gardener, bank-robber, short-order cook or marine biologist” – but that you have to persevere through this and get the words down, and eventually you will emerge with your novel intact, and better than you thought it was on your bad days. Which is fine, if you ooze talent like Neil Gaiman does and are thus incapable of producing any creative work that isn’t utterly marvellous. But what if, actually, you’re just not that good at it? What if you really would be better off in one of those other careers? Maybe I can’t cut it as a writer, but perhaps I’ve got an undiscovered talent for robbing banks…

This is a slightly depressing line of thought, so I’ll not continue down it too much further. I enjoy writing, and I’d like to get better at it, so I will carry on doing it. I just hope I don’t end up like so many writers I’ve run into online: pushing my poorly written, grammatically horrifying, self-published* “masterpiece” onto all and sundry, convinced that I’m the next bestselling phenomenon and blissfully unaware of the non-existence of my talent.

* Note: this is not to imply that all self-published books are terrible. On the contrary, I’ve read some excellent self-published work. However, I’ve also read some real horrors – and yes, I know a lot of rubbish books get published too, but bad self-published books to tend to be a whole other level of awful. At least terrible, traditionally published books rarely have me reaching for the Grammar Hammer.

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